Prominent Vatican cardinal accused of sexual assault in civil suit in Canada

File photo: Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet walks on St Peter's square on March 11, 2013.
File photo: Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet walks on St Peter's square on March 11, 2013. © Johannes Eisele, AFP

Vatican Cardinal Marc Ouellet is the highest-ranking clergyman accused in a court document in Canada made public on Tuesday as part of a class action lawsuit against the Quebec Catholic diocese alleging sexual assault, the plaintiffs' lawyer said.

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The lawsuit represents more than 100 people, including minors, who were alleged to have been sexually assaulted by 88 priests and staff working at the Quebec diocese starting in 1940, according to a court document and a news release issued by the Arsenault Dufresne Wee firm which filed the class action.

In the filing in Quebec Superior Court, an anonymous complainant alleges Ouellet inappropriately touched her, including by rubbing her shoulders and back, and made comments that made her feel uncomfortable.

The document states the interactions took place between 2008 and 2010 when Ouellet was archbishop of Quebec and head of the diocese and she was working as a 23-year-old intern. Ouellet faces no criminal charges.

A Vatican spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Calls to Ouellet's Vatican residence and office late on Tuesday were not answered. A representative for the Quebec diocese declined comment. Reuters could not immediately determine the identity of the cardinal's lawyer.

Ouellet now heads the Vatican's powerful Congregation for Bishops which advises the pope on which priests should be made bishops. He is on many experts’ short lists of candidates to succeed Pope Francis after the pontiff dies or resigns.

One of two resident Canadian cardinals at the Vatican, he accompanied Pope Francis on his trip to Canada last month.

The woman's complaint against Ouellet was filed directly to the Vatican in 2021 and assigned to priest Jacques Servais, a theologian tasked with looking into the matter; the woman said she had yet to learn of any conclusions, the filing said.

The class action was authorised in May to proceed. Arsenault said he expects the number of victims in the class action will grow after the filing on Tuesday.

(REUTERS)

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